This is a piece from my daily writing practice that I cleaned up a bit and submitted to this magazine.
You can find it here.
This is one of my 15 minute writing practices. Pen never leaving the page, and no editing allowed.
There are no sides to take. There is only us. Each of us. The together of us. The ocean of us. How you can’t sort an individual cup of water from the substance that covers most of the globe. The salt in the water. The whales in the water. The seals, sea lions, manta rays, dolphins. The barnacles on the seashells. The coral reefs. The blue fish, yellow fish, oysters, crabs. The sand dollars. The starfish. All of us. The climate is changing, and together, we can stop using so many plastics: water bottles, shampoo containers, straws, cups, and bags. We can drive less and live in smaller spaces. We can buy fewer new things. We can upcycle, recycle, reuse. We can make the best things second-hand things. We can buy things that last not a few years but one hundred years. Bookcases, desks, beds. There are no sides to take. There is only we. Divided not by skin color or religion or lines drawn on maps. One. All aboard the same train. We are all going in the same direction. I love the saying we are each walking each other home. Each of us holding the hand of the other, therefore ourselves. Gently saying out loud, “It will all be okay.” We will all be okay. We can do this together for each other for ourselves. I have heard that the trees have their own language. They sort of sing as they bend toward the sun. We are like trees, only we live shorter lives, so we aren’t as wise. We haven’t seen as much, and maybe we don’t hear each voice calling out to us to join the parade. To join the circle. To come together and resist the urge to tug at what won’t break. We are all of each other. The same substance, soil, blood, bones, cartridge, and tendon. We are weak and strong. We are brave and fearful. We are at one pole or the other, but we belong like an instrument. One string high-pitched another low. Let’s sing. Let’s dance. Let’s carry each other on our backs or shoulders. Let’s do all the things for one another. Doing them for ourselves.
How to get published in magazines will be live this Saturday at 9:00 AM PST. It is free to attend. This is a beginning class.
Registration is here:
I am offering a free writing seminar this Saturday, February 27th at 9:00 AM PST. The class will teach you how to get published in magazines. If you are a mental health writer, or caregiver, please sign up! I hope to see you there.
Link to register:
It won’t be forever
This morning my mom reminisced about her younger self -bodysuits, jumpsuits, and polyester wide-leg pants. She told me how, at eighty-three, she only likes loose fitting clothes.
It won’t be forever
This stay-at-home order is making us unable to dine in restaurants. We are as close as possible to our house-indoors.
It won’t be forever
I tell myself just as our bodies have changed, our clothes styles have changed, this too, the pandemic will pass, and we will go back to – what?
It won’t be forever
But I don’t know what is next. I don’t hate using the bedroom as an office or sitting in my favorite recliner. Or the time I spend standing at the door of an open refrigerator peering in at what food to eat each day. I’ve added lots of fruits – watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, seedless grapes. And lots of vegetables – radishes, yams, carrots, potatoes, zucchini.
It won’t be forever
We will still wear masks after the vaccine, but we will move on with less fear, although some caution.
It won’t be forever
The wearing of sweatpants, baggy shirts, no underclothes. The meeting up with friends on Zoom. The writing groups. Church broadcast on YouTube.
It won’t be forever
Hearing my husband talk to the people he supervises. Talking them through their frustrations, their workload, their overtime.
It won’t be forever
This pause in how we were living – the race to do more, buy more, take more pictures of the flashiest, artsiest, most fashionable things on Instagram. Putting the brakes on won’t be forever, but it’s given us a shakeup. A time to reflect. A time to go inward, and although
It won’t be forever
The impact of it will last for the rest of our lives.
All-day, it continues. Little blessings like a cool breeze coming through the open window. The light as it shines and brightens the whole room. I enjoy the fresh banana and nonfat yogurt with a cup of tea. The guided journals are encouraging gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. I receive a kiss from my husband, a soft word, some days a love note placed in the red mailbox we bought in the dollar section at Target.
All-day, it continues. A phone call to my parents still alive and doing well even with chronic conditions like Parkinson’s and leukemia. A snack of hummus and pita bread or Ritz crackers out of the box.
All-day, it continues an e-mail from a student saying, “Thank you.” A paycheck from a class I taught arrives in the mail. A text from one of my brothers or a friend. Plans to share a brunch date over Zoom to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
All-day, it continues. The smell of a tree with white flowers blooming just outside my window. A swarm of bees pollinating the plants. A dog barking as its owner plays fetch with it on the grass patch across the street.
All-day, it continues. My favorite pair of sweatpants and a worn-out t-shirt with soft cotton plush socks. A poem that I think is profound or beautiful or both. A photograph on Instagram of trees turning orange, red, yellow. The air pollution calculator is on green indicating the quality is good today.
All-day, it continues. Something sweet like oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies or a piece of dark chocolate with mint. My husband’s and my guilty pleasure of Red Vines while watching our favorite comedy series.
All-day, it continues. These little blessings. One pound less on the scale, making my BMI in the normal category. The sight of my toenails painted pink. My husband puts my hair up in rag curls. I finish a workout on the stationary bike. I stretch my body for thirty minutes easing some of the aches and pains.
All-day, it continues. I smell bread baking or the scent of a vanilla candle. I feel fabrics so soft on my skin or the touch of my husband. I see the bay out of the dining room window. I hear music from Pandora or YouTube. I taste fresh food like watermelon, apples, or beets.
All-day, it continues these little blessings that spring up everywhere along with each breath making me want to reach up and grab ahold of the sky.
I attended a virtual event yesterday about mental health. I was supposed to give my input, but I didn’t know exactly when I would be speaking. After an hour and fifteen minutes, I needed to log off because adrenaline had been pumping through my body the whole time, and I was sick from it. It took me an extra dose of medication and two to three hours to get back to a place of feeling okay.
One of the worst parts of this illness is the desire to do things that I cannot do. I want to feel 100% all the time. I want to be able to speak at events, travel, visit friends and family, attend conferences and workshops, but so often, it isn’t possible for me.
It is hard to accept that I was unaware of any limitations that held me back for much of my life. I did what I wanted to do. I went where I wanted to go. I took jobs that I wanted to do. I flew overseas at the drop of a hat. I was strong and capable and didn’t even consider that the things I was doing were difficult or impossible for some people.
Now, I live with many limitations, but the reality hasn’t caught up to my desires. I still see what I want to do and try it, and often it turns out terribly. I don’t want to be someone who never tries new things or says no, out of fear of a negative result, but when things go wrong, and people are counting on me, or I have my hopes up, I feel like a failure.
I think many people are like I used to be. They are unaware that the everyday things they do are impossible for some people. I think this makes people less forgiving when those of us with an invisible illness say, “I can’t do that,” or “I’m having trouble and need to leave.”
It is easy to judge people and consider them unreliable or flakey or incompetent or even someone who lies about why they can’t do something. I hope that I have learned from personal experience that not everyone can produce at the same level, have a busy schedule, go to every event you or me, or others can.
I need to extend more grace to those people who have a more difficult time than I do. I need to believe that they are doing the best they can. I hope others will extend that grace to me and realize that I wish I could do all the things, but that simply is a life I have to let go of and accept that I struggle mightily with so much.
Let’s try to believe what people say, show compassion, and think the best of one another. I need this reminder, and I think some others do as well.
Let’s not forget that, along with a year that many call a dumpster fire, there is still the ocean. Sharks and whales and orcas. I heard that a white orca was off the coast of Alaska. Remember, the orca that carried her dead calf around for two weeks or more? That orca has a new calf. I try to imagine her grief not entirely lifted, but the joy of swimming in the pod with her new baby very much in need of her, and very much alive.
Let’s not forget that chocolate is still delicious or vanilla if you prefer that. Last night we froze pumpkin pie to take out slice by slice whenever we need the comfort of the taste of Fall.
Let’s not forget that we have people who care about our well-being and if we are okay. I’m not doing okay each moment, but I still see each morning I open my eyes as a miracle, a wonder, a gift. How did I make it to fifty-five? That young girl who once smoked a pack of cigarettes a day skipped school, got called into the principal’s office. Teachers were so frustrated they lost their composure and yelled at me in class because they knew I was ditching, and I forgot a pencil or pen to a shorthand class. “Who does that?” My mother-in-law would say. I do. I did. I was.
Let’s not forget that people still say I love you and mean it. People even buy each other coffee or pay for a stranger’s meal.
Let’s not forget that most Americans are kind hearted people who would stop and help someone struggling. Maybe they would assist the elderly with their groceries or help a lost child find their parent.
Let’s not forget we are a people who smile when walking past people on the street, a practice my in-laws from France think is foreign.
Let’s not forget all of this because it adds up, and it’s not nothing.
It has been over two hundred days since I had my hair trimmed, went to a grocery store, or ate in a restaurant. I’ve hardly been outside of my neighborhood in the past six months. Many people have gone back to work (or are essential workers and have always been working). My house has not returned to anything close to what it was like in January of this year.
In some ways, this pandemic is trying and challenging. In other ways, it has brought hard work and some much-needed tools and healing to my life. I thought that I was an expert in self-care and managing my schizophrenia symptoms the best way possible, but it turns out I had so much work to do and so much to learn.
Before the pandemic, I took my medications regularly, monitored my sleep, made sure to exercise at least five times a week, and ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Along with these things, I wrote in guided journals, had regular appointments with my psychiatrist, and watched my stress levels closely. I still had symptoms, but I thought I was doing the best I could to manage them.
In March, I started seeing a therapist, she didn’t work out for me, and I began to see a therapist who works in my psychiatrist’s office in May or June. She was only allowed to work with me for twelve weeks, and during that time, we worked on tools to manage my anxiety disorder, healing shame, and healing trauma.
I never realized how much work I could do to lessen the impact of my anxiety disorder. It never occurred to me that so many thoughts that I had made me spiral into negative territory and have bad days. I also never realized the level of shame I carried. Although the shame comes from more than my schizophrenia diagnosis, that label alone and its weight can harm mental health.
Of course, not everything is rosy. I cry at least a couple of times every day. I don’t sob. I simply cry a little at the state of the world, the deaths, the stress of constant hand washing, and mask-wearing, and not being able to see family or friends (it has been over a year since I saw my parents or any of my siblings). 2020 has been a tough year in so many ways, and I find I worry about things that were never part of my reality before.
On the other side of that, my resting pulse rate has gone down between ten and twenty points (depending on when I take it), and my blood pressure is lower than I can remember it being in the past. These are the genuine health benefits from working on anxiety. I still have panic attacks, but they are less severe and are over in far less time.
The tool that has had the biggest impact on me is sticking to a regular writing practice. I have written regularly for the past six years, but I wasn’t writing every day. Something about sitting down every day and doing automatic or expressive writing has acted like a pressure valve releasing the steam before the pot boils over.
I have been using a writing technique I learned from a woman whose name is Laurie. If you want to join me in a group where I use what I have learned from her, please get in touch. I plan to run several groups starting soon, and I would love to have as many of you as possible write alongside me.
There are times when a message so simple, delivered at the right time, can have a profound impact on our lives. I happened upon one of those messages yesterday. During the pandemic, I have tried to spend time working toward healing and bettering my responses to events and circumstances. I have watched every YouTube video by Brene Brown (if you haven’t done this, I highly recommend it). I also bought several workbooks on healing trauma and emotional regulation. Added to that list are two books by Brene Brown (because there can never be too much good advice and great stories).
Anyway, yesterday, while doing a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) exercise, I ran into an explanation about fixed thinking and labels. Fixed thinking ( like saying, I have a terrible memory, or I am awful at math) doesn’t allow for growth. It leaves the person saying those things stuck. If, on the other hand, a person has an attitude of development, they will try math and try to get better at it, or practice techniques to improve their memory, etc. This type of thinking provides for a change instead of the more rigid fixed thinking.
One part of what I read yesterday was about labels and how labeling ourselves is falling into the trap of fixed thinking. Here is the most important statement that rocked my understanding of my illness and myself. The writer said being diagnosed gives you a label.
These past six years of writing publicly about schizophrenia, I have often tried to get other people to see beyond my diagnosis. I have written how I am a partner, a sister, a friend, an aunt, a daughter, etc. The whole time I was writing those words, I was labeling myself as someone with schizophrenia.
Labeling myself as someone with schizophrenia is fixed thinking. It can cause me to believe that it is something about myself that won’t get better and will never change. How I am today is unlikely to be how I will be tomorrow. I can learn to manage my schizophrenia better. I can learn more coping techniques, and equally important, I can add more interests and hobbies to my life. By adding hobbies or passions to my life, I may find things that I identify with more strongly than having schizophrenia. Having a big and complex life gives schizophrenia that much less meaning. It takes it out of the driver’s seat and puts it in the trunk among all the other odds and ends that get tossed in there.
As an example, I am spending much more time writing during the pandemic, and I am spending much more time teaching three different writing courses. Teaching and writing define much more of who I am than the fixed label of schizophrenia.
To continue along those lines, I want to create a community of writers who meet on Zoom once or twice a week. I would have to charge a small fee to cover costs, but I would make it low enough to be accessible to almost everyone who wants to participate. I have found writing in community has helped me generate many words on the page these last six months. If you are interested in being a part of a writing community please contact me with the days and times that work best. I will post again about this soon. Please get in touch if you want to take part in a powerful writing practice that helps you make writing a central practice in your life. The writing you do can be healing, centering, therapeutic, and spark more and more creativity. Reach out because I would love to have you.